Surrounded by a sea of blue agave, sun-baked Tequila is a surprisingly attractive factory town that’s firmly on the tour-bus circuit these days. The eponymous drink – the object of everyone’s longing – is best observed in one of three local distilleries, all of which run tours.
I chose to visit La Rojena, which is a distillery owned by the Cuervo family, makers of the world famous Jose Cuervo line of Tequilas.
Jose Cuervo owns literally thousands of hectares of land where new Blue Agave plants are planted every month. It takes 6 to 8 years before the Agave can be harvested. Agave maybe grown from seeds or offshoots of the mother plant. Growing from seeds can take up to 20 years and so obviously the preferred method is to grow from offshoots.
The offshoots are trimmed and planted at about 4-6 inches deep. No irrigation is required as the plant absorbs moisture from the air through its long leaves or when it rains. It’s a very hardy plant and can go for long periods without water. At 1-2 years, the ‘long’ leaves are trimmed or cut off to stress the plant to make it sweeter. This process is repeated after 1-2 years. In year 4-5 the main central stem is cut off to prevent further plant growth. Soon after the plant is harvested by shearing off all the leaves at the base leaving the central bulb called “Piria” or pineapple. This can weigh between 40-50 kilos! It takes approx. 7 kilos to make 1 litre of Tequila. If this piria is split in half, a central heart shaped structure can be seen. This is used to make a more purer form of Tequila called Ariejo.
The huge blue Agave bulbs, once harvested in the fields, are loaded onto trucks and taken to the distillery where they are washed and steamed for 60 hours. Other ingredients are added for the Agave to release the sweet nectar. At this stage it turns dark brown in color and if chewed tasted very sweet. The blanco is processed in 18, 000 litre wood barrels while the Reposado in barrels similar to wine barrels – only French or Canadian Oak barrels are used.
There are 3 basic types of Tequila. Blanco, which is fresh Tequila and looks like water – it is very potent, and ”harsh’ for the palate. If this is matured for 2 to 3 years it is called Reposado. If matured for 3 to 5 years it becomes very smooth and is called Añejo. If matured from 5 to 7 years it is called extra Añejo. Blended Tequila also produced.
Costs: Return bus to Tequila from Guadalajara £7.00. Two and a half hour tour £15.00, which included a tasting session.